BB: Short Poems, Sonnets 18-23

Artwork - Leigh MacRae
Artwork – Leigh MacRae

Welcome Brawlers to another episode of the Bard Brawl!

Next week, pirates. But before we get to that, we’re back with another one of our sonnets podcasts. In this recording, we pick up where we left off with sonnets 18-23.

Listen to or download the podcast.

You’ll remember that sonnets 1-17 were the so-called Procreation sonnets because they were trying to convince a young man to have kids. Seems that didn’t go so well, either because the young man didn’t follow his advice or because the poet decided that human lives are too fleeting.

This means that the sonnets are still being addressed to the same young, at least until we get further along into the sonnet sequence and Shakespeare starts writing about a mysterious (but hot) dark lady who is somehow involved with both men.

I guess that if you want to immortalise someone for all time, nothing does it better than poetry, right?

It’s kind of ironic that no one knows for sure who the hell these sonnets are actually addressed to.

Sonnet 18 (Episode: King Lear, Act V, Read by: Leigh Macrae)

Leigh Macrae
Leigh MacRae

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee

Argument: The totally predictable thing to do would be to compare to a summer’s day and point out how you’re just as awesome. But actually, that doesn’t work because you are even better than summer could ever be. Here’s what’s wrong with summer: it’s too hot, the winds are too violent and it’s too short. Luckily, thanks to the awesome power of poetry, that won’t happen to your summer (as long as people keep reading these poems).

Sonnet 19: (Episode: King Lear, Act I, Ready by: Kayla Cross)

Kayla Cross
Kayla Cross

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

Argument: Here’s the deal, Time: feel free to make the lion old, to make the tiger lose his teeth, to kill off the phoenix and everything else in the world. Go ahead and ruin everything. But, Keeps your hands of my beloved! Don’t you dare spoil a single one of their features. In the end though, joke’s on you: they’ll be young forever because I have encased them in poetic carbonite.

Sonnet 20: (Episode: Taming of the Shrew, Act II, Ready by: Melissa Myers)

Melissa Myers
Melissa Myers

A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all ‘hues’ in his controlling,
Much steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

Argument: You have a beautiful woman’s face and a tender woman’s heart – but none of those unpredictable mood swings. You’re also way more faithful and not easily attracted by each passing hottie. In fact, whatever you look at is made better because of it. Both man and women want (to be) you. You were clearly intended to be woman but Nature was so enamoured with your that she decided to give you a penis. So women can use your for sex all they want so long as I can have your love.

Sonnet 21: (Episode: Henry VI part 1, Act II, Read by: Esther Viragh)

Esther Viragh
Esther Viragh

So is it not with me as with that Muse
Stirr’d by a painted beauty to his verse,
Who heaven itself for ornament doth use
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse
Making a couplement of proud compare,
With sun and moon, with earth and sea’s rich gems,
With April’s first-born flowers, and all things rare
That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems.
O’ let me, true in love, but truly write,
And then believe me, my love is as fair
As any mother’s child, though not so bright
As those gold candles fix’d in heaven’s air:
Let them say more than like of hearsay well;
I will not praise that purpose not to sell.

Argument: These other poets see a person with way too much Botox and then pretend like they’re more beautiful than all of the wonders of nature. I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to be honest with you and tell you that my love is very beautiful but there’s no way they (or anyone else) are as beautiful as the stars. Since I’m not trying to impress you or trying to sell you anything, I’m not going to insult your intelligence by feeding you a load of BS.

Sonnet 22: (Episode: Henry IV part 1, Act IV, Read by: Maya Pankalla. And episode: Talking About the Weather…, Read by: Hannah Dorozio)

Maya Pankalla
Maya Pankalla

My glass shall not persuade me I am old,
So long as youth and thou are of one date;
But when in thee time’s furrows I behold,
Then look I death my days should expiate.
For all that beauty that doth cover thee
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me:
How can I then be elder than thou art?
O, therefore, love, be of thyself so wary
As I, not for myself, but for thee will;
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
As tender nurse her babe from faring ill.
Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain;
Thou gavest me thine, not to give back again.

Argument: I don’t care what my mirror says, I won’t be old as long as you remain young. Once I do see that you are old, then I’ll be ready for my grave. Really though, you look so good and young because I’ve got my ‘love delusion’ goggles on. Until I take them off, there’s no way we’ll be old. So, take care of yourself for my sake. I’ll take care of your heart carefully but don’t expect to ever get it back: it’s mine now, no take-backs.

Sonnet 23: (Episode: Taming of the Shrew, Act I, Read by: Stephanie E.M. Coleman)

Stephanie E.M. Coleman reading Sonnet 1
Stephanie E.M. Coleman 

As an unperfect actor on the stage
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart.
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharged with burden of mine own love’s might.
O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love and look for recompense
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.

Argument: I know I sound like a blubbering idiot when we’re together but I swear it’s just that my love for you is so strong that it overwhelms me and I just can’t speak. Kind of like and actor who forgets his lines because they’re nervous or like someone who is so too pissed for words. Instead, I hope that you will read these poems and let them speak for me. Wouldn’t that be an impressive trick – letting your eyes ‘hear’ what a have to say?

Fair warning Brawlers: things are liable to get a little weird next week.

But it probably won’t be any worse than your last family gathering where your drunk uncle hit on your girlfriend before spending the rest of the night trying to kill one of your second cousins

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BB: King Lear, Act I

Artwork - Leigh MacRaeArtwork – Leigh MacRae

Listen to or download the podcast.

Welcome Brawlers to the Bard Brawl’s recording of the first act of this, our fifth play.

And what a play it is! This is no Taming of the Shrew or Henry VI, part 1, scrappy dramatic undercards who hang in there on pure grit and desire despite their faulty technique and poor conditioning.

No. This is the main event, ladies and gentlemen.

Along with such plays as Hamlet, Julius Caesar and Othello, this one is a serious contender to the title of best play ever written, folks.

Get ready for King Lear!

Without further ado, then, let’s ring the bell!

The play opens in act I, scene 1 with Gloucester and Kent – two nobles of Lear’s court – talking about Kent’s son Edmond. There’s a lot of wordplay centering on the fact that Edmond is Gloucester’s bastard son (and no one seems to care that he’s standing right there listening to the whole thing). More importantly, we learn that King Lear’s about to do something completely nuts: he’s going to abdicate the throne, turn over the lands to his daughters and ‘retire’ with a hundred knights, which the daughters will be responsible for upkeeping. This is already a little sketchy but here’s the really crazy part: he decides to give the biggest or best portion of his kingdom to the daughter who loves him most. And so he has them take part in a ‘sucking-up-to-dad’ competition. Goneril and Regan jump right into it but Lear’s youngest daughter Cordelia refuses to play the game. Despite being Lear’s favourite, the old man misinterprets her silence as ingratitude and decides to deny her any land at all. He redistributes that portion between his two other daughter. Kent, his most loyal retainer, tries to reason with him but he is banished for his honesty in a fit of range in which lear speaks on of the most famous line of the play: “Peace, Kent! / Come not between the dragon and his wrath.” (Sends shivers down my spine, that line. We should all start using it in daily speech. Just saying.) After Kent is banished, Lear calls in Cordelia’s suitors, the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France. After they learn that Cordelia has been stripped of her dowry (a third of Lear’s lands), Burgundy rejects her. The King of france, however, recognises the value of her honesty and agrees to marry her. Whew – it’s on!

Actually, does this remind you of anything a little more recent, too?

As the first and legitimate son, his brother Edgar is in line to inherent all of Gloucester<s lands and titles. Of course, Edmund is not about to just take that lying down and t the start of scene 2, we surprise Edmond musing to himself and plotting to get his brother out of the picture. The world think’s a bastard is a bastard? Well, then he’ll show them a bastard they won’t soon forget. He forges a letter which is supposed to be written by Edgar and which discusses a plot for the two brothers to team up and kill dad. Then, the letter adds, when dad’s out of the picture and Edgar inherits everything, he’ll cut Edmund in for half. He fakes hiding the letter which just makes it irresistible to Gloucester who buys into the whole thing. Part two of the plan involves getting rid of Edgar so he can<t go to dad and say his jerk of a bastard brother made the whole thing up. So, Edmund takes Edgar aside and makes up some story that their father wants him dead because he suspects that Edgar is trying to kill him. Edmund tells him to run the hell away and that he’ll try to dead with Gloucester for him. Edgar runs off.

See how all this talk of bastards and inheritance is mirrored in the two main plotlines? Shakespeare gets to be really good at this stuff by this point in his career. Moving right along.

Act I, scene 3 is short but vital. Lear mentioned earlier that not only would he have a hundred knights in his entourage at all times but that he would split his time living with each of his daughters in turn. However, when Goneril hears that Lear has apparently hit her servant, she decides that she’s had enough of Lear and his rowdy knights. When she hears that they are making their way to her castle, she instructs her servant Oswald to be negligent in serving Lear. this way, she can trick Lear into giving her justification for reducing the number of his entourage. Lot of clever people in this play.

Despite being banished by Lear earlier, it’s clear from the start of scene 4 that he has no intention of abandoning the old king now. He disguises himself and offers his services to Lear who accepts. Oswald arrives and informs lear that Goneril and her husband Albany will not be greeting him because they are sick. One of Lear’s knights points out that they’ve totally been dissed. Lear hits Oswald who takes issue with that but Kent steps in and shows Oswald out of Lear’s presence. Lear calls his fool to him and as soon as he arrives on the scene, the fool lays into Lear. All of his arguments basically come down to this: “You crazy old coot! By splitting your crown and kingdom into pieces, you’ve left yourself with nothing. Even I’m better off than you are because while you’re not a king anymore I’m still a fool.” Something like that. After quite of bit of this between Lear, Kent and the fool, Goneril shows up and she’s pissed. She asks Lear to reign in his entourage and to wisen up. He of course refuses and gets insulted, but of course there’s nothing he can do about it now. She tells him he;ll have to downsize his entourage to fifty knights. Not happy at all about any of this, he says ‘the hell with this’ and decides to go see Regan who he hopes will treat him with a bit more respect. Goneril, however, has already sent off a letter to her sister and they’ve both agreed that they’ve had enough of their father and his buddies watching the Habs game and getting drunk on their dollar. I think we can see where this is going.

In the final scene of the act, Lear sends Kent to Gloucester with a letter explaining what has happened at Goneril’s and telling him to expect Lear shortly. (Seems that Regan and her husband Cornwall are staying at Gloucester’s castle at the moment.) The rest of the scene is an exchange between Lear and his fool. While Lear hopes that Regan will give him a warmer welcome, the fool predicts that she’ll be just like Goneril. Then, for a brief moment, Lear seems to realize how much he has wronged Cordelia when he stripped her of her share of his lands and banished her to France. The fool interrupts him and rubs a little salt in the wound by reminding Lear that it was a really dumb move to give up his house as now he has to live at the mercy of merciless daughters.

We’ll get into the succulent barbecued meat of King Lear in our next post but in the mean time, as always, here’s a list of some of the main characters appearing in King Lear:

  • King Lear: The aging King of England. He has no sons so decides instead to retire and split the kingdom between his three daughters.
  • Goneril: Lear’s eldest daughter. She is married to the Duke of Albany.
  • Albany: Goneril’s husband. A bit of a pushover with a good heart. Nowhere near the ruthlessness of Cornwall.
  • Regan: Lear’s second daughter and arguably the meanest of the bunch. She is married to the Duke of Cornwall.
  • Cornwall: Regan’s husband. Like her, he’s a ruthless and sadistic.
  • Cordelia: Lear’s youngest daughter. While she loves him the most, she is disowned by her father because she refuses to indulge in flattering him.
  • Kent: One of Lear’s oldest and most loyal advisors, he continues to serve Lear in disguise after he is banished. Stephanie points out in the show that Kent’s kind of like a Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey. You know, this guy – Mr. Carson as Kent?
  • Fool: This is Lear’s fool or court jester. One of Shakespeare’s best fools.
  • Oswald: A servant to Goneril and Regan.
  • Gloucester: A nobleman of Lear’s court, and the father of Edgar and Edmund. While loyal to Lear, he’s unable to help him and pays a high price for trying to do so.
  • Edgar: Gloucester’s legitimate son who is being framed by Edmund. He is loyal to his father and like Kent with Lear, he disguises himself to stay near Gloucester.
  • Edmund: Gloucester’s bastard son. He plots to overthrow his father and eventually tries to play the two sisters against each other in the hopes of being king.

You might have noticed that a crap ton of stuff happens in this act? Well, get used to that pace because the intensity’s about to get ramped way up for act II.

Check out Jessica Winter’s article on Lear for Slate Magazine that was mentioned in the podcast.

Bonus sonnet 19 read by Kayla Cross.

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